HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP)
Gun-control politics put down more roots in Pennsylvania's race for U.S. Senate on Monday as former Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords endorsed the re-election bid of Republican incumbent Pat Toomey over Democratic challenger Katie McGinty.
Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, and her husband, Mark Kelly, made the endorsement in an editorial on behalf of their organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Toomey, they said, "broke from the gun lobby" in a 2013 vote to expand background checks to gun purchases online and at gun shows. The bill -- a response to the shooting rampage at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 -- ultimately failed amid Republican opposition.
Gun control is already the subject of two TV ads running in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, which is viewed as crucial to determining control of the chamber next year. Polls show a neck-and-neck race between Toomey and McGinty.
McGinty's campaign said that her positions on gun control are more in line with Giffords' and that Toomey has hardly strayed from the National Rifle Association's positions in a flurry of recent votes.
On Monday at the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg, McGinty attacked Toomey as doing little more than lending his name to the background-check legislation before abandoning it. He touts his "A rating" with the NRA and twice voted against measures to prevent terrorism suspects from buying guns, McGinty said.
"He's not been a fighter for common-sense gun safety," McGinty said.
Democrats also noted that McGinty supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons and limits on magazine capacity. Toomey does not.
In a statement, Toomey said he was honored by the endorsement and committed to "bridging the partisan divide" to close the terrorist loophole, expand background checks to gun shows and online sales, and fund research into gun violence.
"I look forward to introducing a bill next Congress that works to achieve these ends," Toomey said.
Toomey also is endorsed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, another gun control advocate.
Toomey opposed Democrats' bills to close the terrorist loophole because, he said, of the barriers they would create for someone who is mistakenly put on a terrorist watch list and blocked from buying a gun.
Rather, Toomey supported a Republican measure to block such purchases, legislation that Democrats defeated and criticized as being ineffective. GOP leaders did not allow a vote on a proposed compromise bill Toomey drafted in June, and he sided with Democrats on another proposed compromise sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The NRA opposed Collins' bill, and Republicans defeated it.
Five weeks before the 2010 election, the NRA gave Toomey an "A" rating and endorsed him in his race against Democrat Joe Sestak. It has not issued an endorsement of Toomey's re-election bid or updated his rating, and a spokesman would not say whether the NRA plans to endorse Toomey in this campaign.
In one of the gun-control TV ads running in Pennsylvania, a national Democratic group, Senate Majority PAC, portrays McGinty as stronger on gun control and shows video of Toomey last month telling an audience, "I have had a perfect record with the NRA." The Toomey campaign insists that comment was made while explaining that he supports fuller background checks.
In the other ad, run by Bloomberg's group, the daughter of the principal slain in the Sandy Hook shooting says she is grateful for Toomey's willingness to defy GOP leaders on legislation to expand gun background checks.